Lately I have become highly conscious of the fact that plastic is everywhere. On a personal scale, it is in every room of my house. The kitchen is especially brimming with this petroleum-based, non-biodegradable phenomenon. Plastic can be found drying in my dish rack, piled in my pantry, and lined up under my sink. Most purchased food is in plastic. Thick plastic, thin plastic, hard plastic, pliable plastic. I think most people don’t see plastic. It just is, much like air. It is accepted as material essential to our lives.
Stepping away from my home and out into space, I now bring my focus to the Northern Pacific Gyre, also known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, where an estimated 225 million pounds or 113,000 tons of mostly plastic debris twice the size of Texas is residing. A similar patch can be found in the Atlantic Ocean.
Because plastic is photodegradable, not biodegradable, it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces over time which become easily mistaken for plankton. And so, the fish, swimming in their beloved sea, unaware of human life, eat this plastic plankton. Yum! And of course, we eat the fish.
What if a waiter brought to you your requested meal and asked if you’d care for any fresh plastic. He’d pull out the plastic grinder from under his arm and proceed to cover your almond-crusted halibut, avoiding the French haricots verts which have too delicate a shitake mushroom glaze to be enhanced. A look of horror covers your face. Plastic? I didn’t ask for plastic with my halibut! That’s crazy!
Crazy, indeed. Right now, most humans are unaware of what plastic residue resides in our food. And my guess is that most would rather not know because it becomes overwhelming when we begin to learn the many ways in which we are ingesting plastic. However, we need to know. Young children don’t have much say in the matter, but we do. Fish don’t have much say in the matter, but we do. There is entirely too much plastic on this Earth.
Back to my kitchen. I recently began cleaning out my pantry in which there was a giant bag full of bags. I never wanted to throw them into the Earth so over an eight-year period I just kept stuffing them into this bag. Bags from shoe stores, clothing stores, department stores, bookstores, toy stores and so on. I finally realized the overflow was out of control, so I went through the bags.
I was amazed at how thickly plastic some of these bags were, as if I were coming home with a twenty-pound set of wrenches, when all I had purchased was a sweater. Most of the bags were not recyclable. However, because I am becoming increasingly agitated by the amount of stuff that has been accumulating in our home, I sorted out the best of the bags that could be used again, recycled what I could, and threw the rest into the Earth along with a lot of guilt.
According to the Marine Conservation Society of the UK it takes 450 -1000 years for plastic bags to break down. Hence that bag from the Motherhood store is going to be around until something like the year 3000. Plastic bags may well outlive the human species, and I wonder if that matters to people.
If you think of it in an abstract way, it is hard to picture the extinction of the human species and the level of misery that would accompany this departure. But if you think of your children’s children, it becomes more tangible. Toxicity in the soil, our food, the water and the air is not something anyone is fabricating. It is real and expanding exponentially. A plastic bag may outlive the human species unless we begin to live life differently.
It’s nearly impossible to get away from plastic these days, and it may well be that we need to wait until the oil runs dry before a significant shift can take place toward use of safe, organic materials. Yet, conscious of the life span of a plastic bag, I feel like I have to do something to contribute to this shift, so I always take bags with me when I shop.
Will this get the plastic out of the fish in the sea? No, but in my spare time, I am working on inventing a giant airborne vacuum made entirely out of recycled plastic that has the capacity to suck up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and transform it back into pure stardust. What are you up to?